David Welker is a visual journalist at the Gwinnett Daily Post in Atlanta, Georgia. Prior to moving to the Southeast, David was a freelancer based in Southwest Missouri covering news and sports for editorial clients such as Getty Images, the Associated Press, ESPN, and newspapers around the country. Washington D.C. born and St. Louis raised, he is a 2012 graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri.
It’s been nearly two weeks since my time in the Catskills of New York, where I spent four days surrounded by close friends and people who would quickly become “family”. Getting into the Eddie Adams Workshop is not something easily attainable and making it through the grueling gauntlet of long days, lack of sleep, and late night portfolio critiques is even harder. You see, if you are unaware, the intensive photojournalism workshop only invites 100 students and early professionals to the Adams’ farm each year. It is a privilege that only around 2700 photojournalists around the world have had the opportunity to be a part of. This October, it celebrated 27 years.
This year was it for me. It was my last try. If I didn’t get in, I would have to accept that and move on with my career. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case, and I am all the more grateful for those editors and photographers who took a look at my work before I hit the “submit” button on the application form.
Students began piling off of the bus onto the hallowed ground, walking the same steps of many that had come before them. It takes a minute to settle in. The colors of fall in rural New York, the golden light coming from the top of the hill as the sun begins its descent, the cheers of staff and faculty of the workshop, and the look on the faces of the other students. We had made it, it was time to storm the barn. That sounds silly, but it all is kind of magical.
I’m not going to go into the details of the entire weekend, but I want to take a moment to reflect on some things that I learned while there and will never forget:
– “Uncle” Jimmy Colton saying “You belong here. You deserve to be here.” In a profession where it is easy to think that you’re only as valuable as the work you put out, it was nice to hear that we deserved to be here because we were worth the investment of the faculty, staff, and sponsors. Granted, he did follow this up by saying “You’re not entitled by being here”.
– Hearing photojournalism greats, John White and James Nachtwey, among others, speak was inspiring. John White’s quotes of “Have an affair with life”, “Be ambassadors of love”, and “Faith, Focused, Flight”, still ring through my mind and I dwell on those everyday. You don’t get a better first night line up than White and Nachtwey.
– “Be willing to fail amazingly!” The quote really says it all. Take chances. Be willing to try something and fail at it. If it works, awesome. If not, oh well, you tried. In this business, you have to be willing to be different and fail astonishingly from time to time.
– Never give up. Never give in. Be willing to give your time, love, and care to those around you. This was some personal enlightenment for the week.
– Focus is not the absence of distractions, but it is the ability to push past them. Another personal enlightenment from the week. The workshop will always fall on a “bad” weekend for someone. If you are that person, work through it. Use the stress to push you to another level. It won’t be easy, but you can do it.
– Always be willing to grow. Do not EVER resist the need to be better than you are or imagined you could be. Personally speaking, I couldn’t imagine how much I would grow from this weekend. Constantly being inspired and encouraged by some of the leaders in this industry will make you better than you could ever imagine. Listen to the advice and suggestions.
– Take criticism as a grain of salt, although a very potent grain. Everyone there wants to help, but everyone will have a different opinion on your work. This is an incredible opportunity to hear from photographers in an unbelievably wide range of sectors of our profession. Listen to those who you look up to and those who you could never imagine you’d work with or for.
– Don’t like your assignment or wish you had another? Get over it. The team producers scourer the area looking for people who are willing to let you into their lives for two straight days and sometimes, you don’t always get the assignment that you “wanted”. These people put aside the awkwardness and fear of letting some young photographer into their bubble and they put their guard down. If I was honest, covering high school football was one of the last things I wanted to do because I do it all the time. BUT (and this is huge), knowing that I had the freedom not to cover one play of the game, meant that I could be different, innovative, and attempt to fail. I was incredibly surprised by my assignment and at the end of the workshop, I really believed I had one of the best ones because of my subject’s willingness to open up. THANKS MIKE!!!
– Never forget those who have come before you. At some point in the workshop, you will realize the cost of this job. For some, that cost is that you lose time with your friends and family. For others, it is even heavier. Take part of the weekend to reflect on the photographers who gave it all. There is a memorial on the farm’s property. My suggestion? Go and just stand in between the pines. Silently stop for a moment and let that hit you.
– Get to know those who are on your team and who are not. You have the great opportunity to meet photographers from around the world. Get to know them, enjoy the company and the time with people who are like-minded. You may be on a team full people with documentary photography backgrounds, awesome. Now go hang out with the sports team. Be willing to be diverse.
– HAVE FUN! This is a 4 day workshop designed to push you to your limits and in some instances, break you. At the end of the weekend, if you did it right, you won’t wish you slept or rested more. Enjoy the time at the farm- Lay in the grass. Take a short nap by the pond. Talk about things that your passionate about with someone you’ve never met, or someone who barely speaks the same language. Go and be a part of the 11:30 club and especially the 6:00(am) club on the last night. Trust me, it will be well worth it.
My conclusion? Want to be a better photojournalist? Apply. Want to get your work in front of some of the most influential photo editors from around the country? Apply. Want to get to know a bunch of photographers? Apply. But most Importantly, if you want to be a better person, to learn what it really means to be passionate about something, and lovingly document people who are willing to let you into their personal lives. APPLY.
The Eddie Adams Workshop was one of the best experiences of my life. I am glad that I didn’t get in several years ago when I first applied because I wasn’t ready to handle the situations that arose prior, during, and after the actual workshop experience. I walk away from that time changed for good. I can only hope that I extend the dream of Eddie Adams, who the workshop was named after. I can only hope to continue the legacy of other great photojournalists who have come before me. I can’t say how appreciative I am of my editor (Brad), team leader (Al) , producer (Robert), techie (Stacy), the Black Team, the Adams family, and all the editors and photographers that had an impact on during that weekend in the Catskills. To the Orange Team, remember, “Teamwork makes the team work (Twerk)”.
Also, to each and every member of the Eddie Adams Workshop XXVII, YOU ARE FAMILY. I love you.